|Written by||Ken Cameron (story),
Terry Hayes (story),
Tony Morphett (story),
Terry Hayes (screenplay)
|Directed by||Ken Cameron|
|Country of origin||Australia|
|No. of episodes||3|
|Running time||120 minutes each (with commercials) (270 mins total)|
|Original network||10 TV Australia|
|Picture format||PAL, Colour, 4:3|
|Original release||5 November – 7 November 1989|
Bangkok Hilton is a three-part Australian mini-series, made in 1989 by Kennedy Miller Productions and directed by Ken Cameron. The title of the mini-series is, in the story, the nickname of a fictional Bangkok prison in which the protagonist is imprisoned, a mordant reference to Hanoi Hilton, the prison known as such used by North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Bangkok Hilton begins as Hal Stanton (Denholm Elliott) leaves Bangkok by ship in the present day. He explains that he has been travelling for years, since a shameful incident when he was a prisoner of the Japanese right there in Bangkok in WWII.
He then takes us to 1960s Sydney, where he was working as a lawyer under the assumed name of Graham Greene. He falls in love with Katherine Faulkner (Judy Morris), the lovely but sheltered daughter of a wealthy family who live in a huge, isolated mansion in the outback. He visits the estate and woos Katherine and they fall passionately in love, but Hal's secret identity is soon exposed. During the war he betrayed a group of his own men, who were planning an escape, to their Japanese captors, and was later court-martialled for it. The fact that he did so to protect the rest of his men from reprisals was considered irrelevant, and he has lived with the shame ever since. Katherine's family break up the relationship and Hal moves, despondently, away. Katherine is pregnant, however, and soon gives birth to Katrina. The young girl is raised on her own at the estate, treated as a shameful product of the illicit affair. A few years later, Katrina, now grown (Nicole Kidman), loses her mother to cancer and inherits the family fortune. Having never ventured off the estate, she travels to Sydney, where she learns that her father is not dead, as she was always told. She decides to go to London, where his family lived, to track him down.
In London, she makes contact with the uncle and cousin she has never met before, overcoming their initial reluctance to meet with her. While planning her return to Australia, Katrina is befriended by Arkie Ragan (Jerome Ehlers), a young American photojournalist who becomes her lover and travelling companion. When the trail leads Katrina to Bangkok, Arkie suggests they go by way of Goa. While enjoying a romantic weekend there, he secretly picks up a shipment of heroin and loads it into a hidden compartment in the carrying case of a camera he has given to Katrina. Katrina and Arkie attempt to find Hal in Bangkok, but find the family lawyer, Richard Carlisle (Hugo Weaving), unwilling to help. Reluctantly returning to Australia, Katrina is arrested at the airport when drug sniffing dogs detect the drugs in her camera case. Arkie, who had joined another queue in the customs hall, disappears.
Katrina is imprisoned in a squalid, overcrowded Bangkok prison nicknamed the "Bangkok Hilton". There she meets another Australian woman, Mandy Engels (Joy Smithers), a heroin addict also imprisoned for drug trafficking. Mandy had used her brother, who had mental health problems, Billy (Noah Taylor) to carry her drugs as they passed through airport customs but the drugs were detected and both were sentenced to death for trafficking. As Katrina's case works its way through the courts they become friends, with Mandy teaching Katrina the ropes of prison life. Meanwhile, Richard Carlisle convinces Hal to take an active part in the case, pretending to be a lawyer from Carlisle's firm.
Hal finds it especially difficult to visit Katrina in the "Bangkok Hilton," because it is the same prison where he was kept by the Japanese forty years earlier. Nonetheless, he finds the will to do so, and to retrace Katrina's footsteps to London and Goa, reuniting with his family as he tracks down the elusive Arkie, hoping his daughter can be saved this way. Eventually, though, Hal and Katrina will be forced to rely only on their own strength to save her life.
The mini series was inspired by the Barlow Chambers Case, which was also turned into a mini series. Terry Hayes felt it would be the basis of a good mini series if the story was changed so the person who went to prison was innocent. He was also inspired by the true story of an Irish woman who had fallen in love with an Arab who smuggled a bomb in her luggage.
Terry Hayes was originally meant to write the script but he was exhausted from Dead Calm and Tony Morphett was given the job. However Morphett was too caught up in work on Sweet Talker (1989) and was unable to do it, so Hayes stepped back in.
Bangkok Hilton is based in Australia, England, India and Thailand, however the majority of the series used locations in Sydney, Australia. None of the mini series was filmed in rural New South Wales as the plot suggests. The residential scenes in the early parts of the series were shot in a former convalescent hospital at Concord, Sydney. The use of green-screen technology superimposed this manor-style house into a rural New South Wales setting. Other locations are Balmain High School in Sydney; the Water Board facility, Waterloo, Sydney; and The Metro Theatre, 30 Orwell Street, Kings Cross, Sydney. Later indoor scenes set in Thailand were largely set-based in the Kennedy Miller Studios, Sydney, apart from the scene involving the escape from prison in the last part of the series. These, and minor scenes (before the incarceration) were filmed at a disused hospital in North Sydney, New South Wales. Non-set based shots required careful acoustic management to ensure uniformity of sound.
Overseas locations are Bangkok International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand; Cidade de Goa Resort Hotel, Vainguinim Beach, Goa, India; Goa Airport, Dabolim, Goa, India; London, England, UK; and the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand.
It was the highest rating mini series of the year (1989) and was the last of the series of productions Kennedy Miller made for Network Ten. Also one of the last mini-series that attracted a large viewing audience, before the demise of the mini-series boom of the 1980s
Later productions with similar stories include Return to Paradise and Brokedown Palace. After the series aired, the name Bangkok Hilton has regularly been used in the media to refer to any and all Bangkok prisons as if those prisons were actually nicknamed Bangkok Hilton in real life. Some news reports state that the Lard Yao women's prison carries the nickname Bangkok Hilton  A 2004 BBC documentary about Bangkwang prison - a male only prison - was titled "The Real Bangkok Hilton". Some news reports have claimed that Bangkwang prison itself carries the real-life nickname "Bangkok Hilton".
The miniseries was originally broadcast in Australia on 10 TV Australia as three episodes on 5, 6 and 7 November 1989, each running two hours with adverts, for a complete running time of four-and-a-half hours. This version was also broadcast in the US on TBS in 1991 with a few minor edits of seconds at a time for content and language.
In 2000 it was released on DVD in the United Kingdom. Each episode was cut in half, creating six new episodes with three episodes on each of two discs. This version mistakenly left the subtitles off an important scene which is spoken in the Thai language.
The bootleg version, commonly available from Russia and other countries, cuts the series down to ninety minutes, only a third of its original length.
The DVD version released in Australia in 2005 presents the series in the original three parts, but has been cropped for widescreen televisions, from 1.33:1 to 1.78:1, cutting off the top and bottom of the film. Because of this, the opening and closing credits had to be redone and the final shot of the film, which played under the closing credits of episode 3, has thus been omitted.
- Nicole Kidman as Katrina Stanton
- Denholm Elliott as Hal Stanton
- Hugo Weaving as Richard Carlisle
- Jerome Ehlers as Arkie Ragan
- Joy Smithers as Mandy Engels
- Judy Morris as Catherine Faulkner
- Norman Kaye as George McNair
- Noah Taylor as Billy Engels
- Gerda Nicolson as Lady Faulkner
- Pauline Chan as Pretty Warden
- Lewis Fiander as James Stanton
- Ric Carter as Detective King
- Tan Chandraviroj as Major Sara
Bangkok Hilton hotels
At the time the miniseries was made, the Hilton International Bangkok at Nai Lert Park (opened in 1983), was in operation. The series carried a disclaimer that it had no connection to that hotel. The hotel is now operated by Raffles International under the name Swissotel Nai Lert Park Bangkok and is still owned by the Sampatisiri family.
- The series was remade in Bollywood as Gumrah in which actress Sridevi reprises the role of Nicole Kidman.
- Scott Murray, "Terry Hayes: Interweaving the Fabric", Cinema Papers, November 1989 p25-29, 76
- Albert Moran, Moran's Guide to Australian TV Series, AFTRS 1993 p 71
- Mark Baker (27 September 2002). "That one bad trip to Bangkok". The Age. Retrieved 5 January 2008.
- BBC Program on Bangkwang Prison
- James Hopkirk (23 October 2005). "Checking in to the Bangkok Hilton". The Observer. Retrieved 8 February 2008.